SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

June 12, 2014

Column: On Google and the curse of the permanent record

Once, we came of age under the shadow of something called a Permanent Record. Nobody ever actually saw one, but as youngsters, we understood we had to keep our own clean, since stains could do lasting damage.

Plainly, the idea of an authoritative, ineradicable ledger on individual behavior is a powerful one. Widespread, too. You see it in everything from the divine Book of Life to the gift list kept by Santa, who knows if you’ve been bad or good.

That permanent record meant somebody was paying attention, which was good, but it was also a dark and oppressive background presence, since it enabled even trivial sins to curse our futures.

Good thing it was largely mythic. Back then, actual record-keeping was spotty, and technology had zero ability to corral the manifold tracks that we each left into some all-knowing compendium.

No longer. Welcome to the digital age. Its mighty search engines have spawned a virtual permanent record for millions of individuals. It’s updated constantly, lasts forever, and is in full-time public view.

What gets in it and with what prominence — those are mysteries, depending on the alchemy of particular search engines. Generally, they suck up most anything about someone that was published or resides in Internet-accessible public records. (The search engines don’t scour social media like Twitter and Facebook, yet.)

That means the fraternity house dustup that led to a sleepover in jail, or the rude remark at a political rally, or any of a thousand missteps and embarrassments that in a pre-modern age would have faded into oblivion — debris from what Justice John Paul Stevens called the “practical obscurity” we used to inhabit — remain vivid, alive and, potentially, toxic.

Hence, the importance of last month’s ruling by Europe’s highest court. It authorizes people to demand that links to material that threatens their privacy be scrubbed from search results.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion

AP Video
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Amphibious Landing Practice in Hawaii Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA
Comments Tracker
Roll Call
Helium debate
Helium